Don Jon’s a dog.
He cares only about his car, his pad, his boys, his family, his gym, his church (Sundays only), girls and porn — lots and lots of porn. That is, until he meets Ms. Right — actually two Ms. Rights — and his bro-licious world is turned upside down when he learns that women are people too.
That’s the simple premise for “Don Jon,” the feature directorial / writing debut for actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but it’s handled with such a deft sense of humor and pathos that it transcends any rom-com handcuffs anyone might try to slap on it. Like “50/50,” the 2011 film in which Gordon-Levitt starred as a young guy who discovers he has cancer but still needs to live his life, “Don Jon” takes what, in other hands, could have been awkward or mawkish, and makes it relatable.
Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a working-class Jersey guy cruising through life who seems to know what he’s all about. That is until Barbara Sugarman (an entertaining Scarlett Johansson, doing her best future “Real Housewives of New Jersey” imitation) high-heels her way into his heart.
He’s totally smitten, but the one thing that stands between them and relationship bliss is his porn addiction.
It takes a bit of schooling from an older woman he meets at night school (Julianne Moore), who’s dealing with lots of issues of her own, to get him to try to face his problem of treating women like objects.
Sure, it’s an obvious point and one that’s not new. Several recent films have dealt with the delicate subject of porn addiction, and the dehumanization that stems from it. The powerful “Shame” did it in a much grimmer, darker fashion two years ago, while the breezy, lightweight “Thanks for Sharing,” in theaters now, treads some of the same territory.
But Gordon-Levitt enlivens “Don Jon” with such a sense of swagger, as a director, writer and actor, that the film feels fresh. He gets strong performances from his actors, including Tony Danza as his no-nonsense dad and especially Moore as the complicated, conflicted Esther. The suddenly omnipresent Brie Larson (“Short Term 12,” “The Spectacular Now”) has a small but funny part as Jon’s sister.
To top it off, there’s no way anyone’s leaving the theater without Marky Mark’s 1991 hit “Good Vibrations” dancing in their head. Win-win for everybody.